I actually planned today’s trip yesterday, and it went exactly as planned. Got into Peoria at 4;00.

I’m quite keen on these municipal visitor’s docks with power. I’m relying on AC all the time now for heat. So today’s trip was 80 miles with one lock at Starved Rock not far from Ottawa. I got underway at 0600, caught a break at the lock, and noodled along the rest of the day.

This is my wake at my slow speed cruise, 1000 rpm. Quiet, no fuss, and double the fuel mileage of a couple of mph faster.

I realized when I got into the quiet straight stretches like the one pictured above that the last two days were pretty stressful. Operating from inside combined with heavy commercial traffic and congestion in spots and lots of wind plus very long days. It was nice to slow down and relax today. I was outside for a couple of hours total – still cool and gray but no wind today so tolerable in short bursts. I saw a big eagle. I didn’t bring any real winter clothes, by design, and wear sandals pretty much all the time. With socks.

I had a marvelous pizza last night and had a couple of beer with dinner. Was completely ready to crash when I got back to the boat. Did a bit of trip planning, did my daily ER check, and was going to bed when I realized the temperature inside had dropped a few degrees. Turned out the cooling system was clogged with debris.

I’ve learned to keep an eye on the flow out the side from the a/c system, and clean out the filter when it goes from a stream to a trickle, and cleaned it in Chicago once. That’s easy. But when I opened the filter last night I found a bunch of solid crud like twigs and leaves. And cleaning the filter didn’t resolve the issue. Anyway, it took me a couple of hours to finally clear the blockage by hooking up the dinghy pump to the outflow and the shop vac to the intake to clear it. Crisis resolved, but it was after midnight when I was done.

This river is interesting. I wouldn’t call it clean. Lotta stuff in the water. I think tomorrow I should check the motor cooling filter as well as the a/c.

There is rain changing to snow in the forecast for tonight. Think I’m going to sleep in tomorrow and see what the day brings. I may well stay here for a day or two. I’m interested in the Catterpillar visitors centre right next door and there’s a museum and historical society very close.

I only took a couple of pictures today. This one was of a bridge from about a mile away. I was tracking moving cars across it with my radar. The Doppler stuff is pretty cool, I’ve been having lots of fun with that, and am very impressed with the capabilities.

And here we are tied up in Peoria. I don’t mind the look of the radar mast. It works as designed, I’ve popped up and down a couple of times to go under bridges.

Nice quiet spot except for a noisy bridge.

Ottawa Illinois

Just tied up at another free visitor’s dock with power. The last 45 minutes were traveled in the dark as I waited about 90 minutes for the Marseilles lock. That seems to be typical – the tows take a long time to lock through, and have priority over us PCs.

So after 2 full days I’ve come 90 miles. 240 to go on the Illinois Waterway. I’ve been getting underway at 0700 but will try to start earlier tomorrow.

No real drama today. It’s chilly outside, around 5c today, but I keep the heat on inside and spend most of my time there. I took advantage of the delays at locks to tidy up and fine tune my new electronics. The radar is great. I didn’t have any problems coming in here after dark and felt comfortable operating from inside.

I’m going to walk downtown for some dinner then get to bed early. Think I was asleep before ten last night.

The obligatory selfie. Glad Sarah left her hat aboard!

I passed what appeared to be a houseboat community kind of in the middle of nowhere

Lots of tows

For one of them I had to tuck in between the big bollards to let the tow go by.

Lots of fun!

Day 1

I’m tied to the wall in Joliet, where the community has made an effort to accommodate transient boaters. It’s free and has power, which is almost essential given the temperature. If I wasn’t plugged in I’d be running the generator to keep the heat on. I’m planning to venture out soon to walk around town and eat out as long as it’s not raining.

Weather today was at times quite windy, 20 – 30 knots, light rain at times, and high 40s (f). Pretty raw outside. I mostly stayed inside and had the heat on for much of the day.

Good news: I tried a docking technique that I was sort of mentally rehearsing, and it went amazingly well. There was a 90 minute wait at the top of the Lockport Lock, and a strong wind blowing perpendicular to the channel. The dock master suggested I secure on the windward wall. That’s a tricky maneuver because the bow gets easily blown off. Today I used a 40 foot dockline as a bow spring, swung the stern in and dropped it on a bollard then powered up to it. Slick. First time I’ve actually done that.

Bad news: I collided violently with a barge. Obviously I’m alive to tell the story, and the boat came through it surprisingly well.

Some background. I’ve noticed that my autopilot behaves strangely around large steel structures like bridges. It’s been particularly noticable around Chicago. Lotta steel here.

There is a particularly congested and busy section of the Waterway at the bottom end of the Sanitary Canal. One section has barges rafted three deep on the shore and there’s not a lot of width left. I was meeting an oncoming tow with parked barges on my right, talking with him on the radio. He was directing me to a gap ahead that I could pull into. I was maybe 10-15 feet from a parked barge traveling parallel to it, and suddenly the boat turned towards the barge and we hit it hard with the starboard bow, bounced, then hit again before I disengaged the autopilot and throttled back. We were going about 6 knots.

Lesson learned. Don’t use the autopilot in very close proximity to large steel barges. The boat has a robust aluminum rub rail that fortunately took the hit, but there is a bit of gelcoat damage on deck too. Nothing major.

Oh, I went through the famous electric fish barrier. No drama.

And went through the Lockport Lock with one other PC (that’s what we’re called in these parts) after waiting more than an hour for an upbound tow.

Off we go

My plan is to get underway at about 0700 tomorrow. Timing seem right as there is freezing temps and snow in the forecast a few days out.

Not unexpectedly I’ve been pretty busy the last couple of days. I’ve been making lists and chipping away at things but I generally don’t get going until the last minute. I just finished the last item an hour ago, repositioning the lower helm chair.

Anyway, I feel ready.

This segment takes me from the Calumet River to the Illinois Waterway, which runs about 325 miles to flow into the Mississippi at Grafton IL. There are a few small towns and marinas along the way. I did this trip in 1991 in a sailboat, so I have some idea of what to expect. It’s also a required passage for Loopers.

My plan is to stay on the Mississippi to Louisiana. The alternative (generally preferred) route calls for leaving the Mississippi at Cairo IL, about 200 miles downstream of Grafton, so that’s my go/no go point. Assuming I stay on the Ms it’s then another 650 miles with only two stops for yachts.

I’m looking forward to getting comfortable with the new electronics during the trip to Grafton. I don’t expect any major drama on that segment. Famous last words…


As part of my fall repairs/refit I installed a bunch of new electronics:

VHF: new Standard Horizon GX2200. I replaced the old VHF at the lower station and installed a RAM mike on the flybridge. I have a handheld that I had been using up top.

My main motivation was to have AIS reception and DSC capabilities. The RAM is a full function remote with a good speaker. Very pleased with having a good radio on the FB.

RADAR: Garmin Fantom 18.

I hadn’t really considered radar earlier. I’m pretty old school in many ways. But I really like traveling at night, and want to get really comfortable operating from the inside helm. It was a spirited discussion on the AGLA forum that got me to the decision.

I should say that I’ve been on a few boats with radar over the years but haven’t actually seen one used effectively. But they’ve come a long way. The technology is quite remarkable, and power consumption is very low. I’m looking forward to making good use of it.

I spent a lot of time on finding a solution for mounting the radar unit. I seriously considered mounting it on the brow over the windshield. RF radiation is far less on the new digital radars, so it might have been safe, but I wasn’t confident that I would get a good view aft. A radar arch is a good solution, but I didn’t want to increase my fixed height. If I had an open chequebook I could have had a folding arch fabricated. That would be the best solution. But I chose instead to do something with scrounged materials from the boatyard. Here’s what I ended up with. The pole is easily dropped to the deck for bridge clearance.

MFD: this is the new term for plotter. I got a Garmin 942sx.

I mounted this on the FB and moved my 540 plotter to the lower helm. One nice feature on the new unit is a that it connects via WiFi to my tablet and is mirrored there so I can use it from the lower helm.

I also added a new depth transducer and heading sensor.

A newer MFD was needed to get all the features of the radar. I was also interested in the integrated Active Captain community information.

I finished the install today and went for a brief cruise, then played with the radar from the dock for a while. Very pleased and excited with the new capabilities.